Benjamin LiboroSee integrity in action as the writer recalls events that transpired during FPHC’s hard times in the 1980s.
I joined First Holdings as a senior manager in 1979 and availed of the managers’ car plan shortly thereafter. It was the basic Mitsubishi Galant GL model, manual shift. They would not even call it a Super Saloon. Because First Holdings
’s fortunes went downhill several years afterward, the car plan was abolished. In the meantime, by around 1987 or 1988 when this story took place, our cars were rather dilapidated. The air cons weren’t working very well, the seat covers had long since given way and the seats themselves were getting rather worn and weary, like everything else in the car.
One time, I was asked to accompany Jess Vergara, a very prominent businessman during the early martial law era, to Malvar, Batangas near Lipa City to look at a small manufacturing plant for exportable baby clothes in connection with an apparel business that he was offering to sell to First Holdings. Later in the afternoon, returning to Manila, we were caught in traffic in Santo Tomas and the air con decided to quit on us. Eventually, we got back to Manila, and when I dropped Mr. Vergara off at his office, I was horrified to note that my car seat had left a rather chocolate- looking stain on the back of his very white shirt, a memento of the ageing upholstery. Of course, I was too embarrassed to tell him about the stain and, instead, I said my good-byes and drove off as quickly as I could.
Two or three years later, in 1990, First Holdings had finally stabilized its businesses to the point that the executive car plan could be restored. One by one, we got our new cars, in my case, a beautiful Mitsubishi Galant Super Saloon automatic. Since only Toyotas, Mitsubishis, Nissans and Fords were available at the time, the Galant was arguably the best-looking design of 1990.
But even as we got our new cars, we were actually very embarrassed to note that OML [Lopez Group chairman emeritus Oscar M. Lopez
] was still tooling around in a Nissan California, Nissan’s ageing station wagon model of that era, that, if I recall, he bought secondhand from his brother Geny. As I also recall, OML was the last to avail of the car plan, and only because he was cajoled into doing so by ELI [First Holdings president Elpidio Ibañez].
The moral: OML accepted the norms of the day and lived with what the company could afford to provide. Moreover, it was a loud and clear demonstration of integrity on the part of the top man.
If you are saying that the company cannot afford to provide your officers or staff members with cars, then this certainly showed it. You could see that his car was just as beat up as everybody else’s, if not more so and even when everyone began to get their new cars, he made sure that he put himself at the back of the queue. He walked that talk and that cleared up the perspectives on what the company was going through and what it needed to accomplish. Coffee and the CEO
Shortly after we moved back to Benpres Building, OML started convening his weekly CEOs’ meetings. Our boardroom was much smaller then and there was no pantry or pantry girl to speak of. Imagine our embarrassment when, the first time we came in for a meeting, it was OML himself serving us our coffees! Now, when was the last time you heard about a CEO serving coffee to his junior executives? Benjamin K. LiboroOn smoking
During those early years after OML’s return, we weren’t fully aware that he used to be a smoker and had quit for wellness reasons. In those days, almost everybody was a smoker. We would get together for CEOs’ and other meetings at FPHC’s boardroom, tiny in comparison to what it is today, and everybody would light up, and continue lighting up during the course of the meeting, starting with Steve Psinakis. Some of those meetings would lead to other meetings and we’d be in that room the whole morning or the whole afternoon, conducting our discussions over a constant haze of smoke. OML would sometimes burst out coughing, but he never once asked us to stop smoking. Of course, for our own various reasons, we all eventually stopped. I myself gave up smoking in 1991. And smoking was finally disallowed, even at First Holdings, after we first heard of Geny’s illness. The strange man in the bathroom
And then there was this incident where Margot Fragante burst into OML’s room, horrified and shocked, complaining that there was a strange man in the ladies’ room. OML is said to have looked up nonchalantly and responded: “Oh, that’s only Galo weighing himself.” Benjamin K. Liboro has been with the Lopez Group for 31 years. He is currently the president of Asian Eye Institute.